Emerg Med J 22:185-187 doi:10.1136/emj.2003.009365
  • Original Article

Predictors of multi-organ dysfunction in heatstroke

  1. G M Varghese,
  2. G John,
  3. K Thomas,
  4. O C Abraham,
  5. D Mathai
  1. Correspondence to:
 G M Varghese
 Christian Medical College, Vellore, Department of Medicine Unit 2, Vellore, India, 632004;
  • Accepted 20 November 2003


Background: Heatstroke is a medical emergency that results from failure of thermoregulatory mechanism coupled with an exaggerated acute phase response, causing an elevation in core body temperature that rises above 40°C, producing multi-organ dysfunction. It carries a high mortality rate, and in survivors, a risk of permanent neurological damage.

Objective: To investigate predictors of multiple organ dysfunction syndrome in patients presenting with heatstroke.

Methods: We investigated 28 patients admitted to a hospital in southern India during the period January 1998 to December 2001. Using a standard form, we collected data on the patients’ characteristics, laboratory data, and outcome, and compared those with multiple organ dysfunction with those without such dysfunction.

Results: We found that more than three quarters of the studied patients developed multiple organ dysfunction, with the most common dysfunction being respiratory failure. Among the selected predictors, metabolic acidosis 14 of 16 patients, 87.5%; p = 0.011, elevated CPK 17 of 19 patients, 89.5%; p = 0.005, and liver enzymes elevated more than twice the normal (11 of 18 patients, 61%; p = 0.02) had the highest correlation with dysfunction of two or more organs.

Conclusions: The high mortality observed in heatstroke is secondary to multi-organ dysfunction, and among the various parameters assessed, high levels of CPK (>1000 IU/l), metabolic acidosis, and elevated liver enzymes are predictive. Aggressive measures to lower the body temperature with other supportive therapy could substantially reduce the mortality.


  • Competing interests: none declared